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Naming 113th element 'nihonium' a tribute to Japanese public support: researcher

Riken institute group director Kosuke Morita points to the spot for the 113th element on a periodic table on June 9, 2016, the day after the proposal to name the element "nihonium" was announced, in Wako, Saitama Prefecture. (Mainichi)

WAKO, Saitama -- The leader of a Japanese research team that synthesized the 113th atomic element and named it "nihonium" divulged the inspiration behind the name on June 9, while touching on the historical lessons accompanying the development of nuclear power.

"Nihonium" comes from the Japanese word "Nihon," meaning "Japan." Kosuke Morita, 59, group director of the Riken institute research team that discovered the element, told reporters at the institute in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, "We chose to name it after Japan to show that the research is supported by the people of Japan." He added that through the naming, researchers "were able to return a favor to the public."

Morita also mentioned nuclear power during the news conference, saying, "The history of the discovery of new elements is inseparable from nuclear power development. We must not forget those roots."

The Riken researcher said his current motivation has shifted to "pure scientific interest." At the same time, he added, "The thing that has been produced the most from synthetic elements is plutonium, which is used in atomic bombs and nuclear power. There was a period when people competed to discover new elements out of a desire to create powerful atomic bombs."

Japanese researchers' efforts to synthesize the 113th element began in 2003. In the lead-up to their latest successful synthesis, they faced power restrictions as a result of meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, but Riken prioritized the power supply for the research, pouring effort into the experiments. Their third successful synthesis of the element, which confirmed the success of their experiments, came in August 2012. Morita dedicated a paper released in September the same year to those hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster.

Ahead of the news conference on June 9, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hiroshi Hase was given a tour of the Riken institute, and Morita requested government support.

"Our next goals are synthesizing the 119th and 120th elements. It will cost about 4 billion yen to reinforce the particle accelerator (experimental facility)," he said.

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